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In 2013, TNA shot an angle that teased a new wrestler, a big star, would be arriving in the company on August 1. The angle was referred to as the “August 1st Warning” and anticipation was high for who it would end up being. Chris Jericho, who was not in WWE at the time, was a popular opinion.
When August 1 finally arrived, in the main event of the show right as Aces and 8s and the Main Event Mafia were brawling at ringside, the mystery man was revealed…and it was Tito Ortiz.
While Ortiz was a huge star in MMA, his relevance to wrestling fans was not particularly high and his debut was a huge flop. The live crowd did not react at all to him, and many of them seemed like they didn’t even recognize Ortiz as he stood sheepishly on the ramp with his arms crossed for what felt like 20 minutes. The reveal was a disaster and TNA’s inability to deliver on promised surprises and big reveals became a punchline for the company.
Promoting surprises in advance is very difficult in wrestling; if you promise a surprise, the imagination of fans will immediately run wild with thoughts and anticipation on who the mystery person will be. Oftentimes, the suggestions that get passed around are infeasible and that ends up with fans setting impossible expectations on the company. In the age of social media, it becomes even more difficult as the wildest fantasies are more likely to gain traction than more likely, conservative outcomes.
With AEW promoting, in the words of Tony Khan “a huge, huge star” to be announced as an AEW performer at Revolution this Sunday, the company has set expectations very high for this mystery person. On Wednesday, Paul Wight mentioned that a “hall of fame worthy signing” would be joining AEW. By using this kind of language, AEW have put themselves in a very risky position; the mystery person has got to be satisfying for wrestling fans, otherwise it will go over as a huge dud and perhaps submarine the entire show, even if all of the matches are good.
So who is going to be the mystery person? There are a decent amount of rumors floating around the internet, and I think we can make a shortlist of likely candidates, while also looking at some real long shots. One quick note is that I’m not really taking the “hall of fame worthy” line seriously; we have no idea what that phrase actually means. Some fans have used it to speculate on talent that is not currently in the WWE Hall of Fame, but I don’t really get that because there are a bunch of different wrestling hall of fames, and I doubt AEW would be using the WWE Hall of Fame as some sort of standard. Wight could also be referring to a hall of fame for another sport, such as football or MMA.
Probably the favorite for this role, Punk and AEW have quite the history despite the fact he has never worked for the promotion. Punk was one of the original names Khan wanted in AEW before the company launched, but Punk was not interested. In recent months, Punk has indicated he is more interested in returning to wrestling than he has in the past. If Punk does want to come back to wrestling, AEW would be a likely landing spot as they can afford to pay him and they might also grant him the kind of creative freedom he would want. While he hasn’t wrestled since 2014, Punk would be a huge star for AEW and there is a lot of potential for feuds involving him and different names on the roster.
Angle has been a popular rumor and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him go to AEW; he hasn’t always appeared happy in his role in WWE and if he thinks he can wrestle again, he might want to go out in a way that isn’t losing to Baron Corbin. Even though Angle is a legend, I do think if he ends up being the person it could be underwhelming; expectations are high and I think that implies that it could be somebody who might be closer to their prime. Wight suggested that the person was Hall Of Fame worthy, which would suggest someone not in a major Hall of Fame, and Angle is already in the WWE Hall of Fame. However, someone that is in a Hall of Fame is technically Hall Of Fame worthy.
We know that Lesnar doesn’t have a contract with WWE, which opens up the possibility for him being in AEW. It’s well known Lesnar is a mercenary that will work for whoever pays him, and he is great at manipulating his leverage between pro wrestling and MMA groups to get the best deal for himself. AEW has the financial ability to give him a lot of money, and him spending some time in AEW might eventually provoke Vince McMahon to pay him even more in the future, so he is a real possibility. Lesnar in AEW would be fascinating, as while we all know how Vince McMahon likes to use him, it would be interesting to see how Khan and AEW would use him.
Someone from NJPW
With KENTA having worked with AEW, the door is open for future collaborations between the two promotions. While they would lack the mainstream name recognition that a former WWE star would have, an appearance by Kazuchika Okada or Tetsuya Naito would be big for hardcore fans and would not feel like a disappointment. The problem for someone from NJPW, is first the quarantining rules between the US and Japan are quite difficult, which will make it hard for someone from Japan to show up. The second challenge is that NJPW is currently doing the New Japan Cup, and have all of their top stars booked on shows for the entire week, so they won’t be able to spend any time flying to Jacksonville and doing all of the quarantining.
The one person notably not booked on the current New Japan Cup tours is IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kota Ibushi. Ibushi is a longtime friend of Kenny Omega’s and with NJPW and AEW now working together, a clash between the two world champions seems imminent. NJPW also just randomly announced they are running two stadium shows in May, one at Yokohama Stadium and another at the Tokyo Dome. Obviously they will need a big main event for those shows. Could Ibushi make an appearance at Revolution to set up a match in NJPW? With him not currently on the New Japan Cup shows, he could theoretically fly to the US and set up the angle for that match, with having enough time to quarantine in Japan when he comes back before he hits the road again with NJPW.
Another retired WWE legend
Outside of Angle there is plenty of room for speculation for someone from WWE’s past to be the mystery person. Mick Foley, Lita, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Mark Henry, etc. have all been subject to (often baseless) speculation on social media. If it does end up being a WWE legend, I’m not sure how well it benefits AEW. The company already has a lot of retired old guys in non-wrestling roles, and while those people do have value, AEW should not want to be the company associated with a bunch of old WWE stars. With perhaps the exception of Austin, I think any of those names listed would be underwhelming.
We all know that her husband is a real possibility, but Lee is also someone who could be considered a big name that is available. She hasn’t seemed to express a lot of interest in wrestling again, but would be a big get for AEW’s women’s division that is in need of name stars.
After Cody teased that McAfee could be signing with AEW shortly during a media call on Wednesday, it would not be a shock to see him pop up at Revolution. McAfee did incredibly well in his few matches in NXT, although his current status in WWE remains unclear, which opens the door for speculation about him jumping to AEW. McAfee is obviously not The Rock or John Cena, but was great in NXT and would probably be just as good in AEW. I think some fans are thinking bigger, but he is a possibility.
Batista seemingly shot down rumors last night, saying that he is retired for good. Similar to The Rock and Cena, Batista has a very successful acting career that he would be jeopardizing if he got injured wrestling. I don’t see him coming in either.
The Rock would obviously be a gigantic get for AEW. I don’t see any real reason why he would appear in AEW; he is insanely busy with all of his different ventures, and the likelihood of him wrestling in a match is minimal due to the risks associated with him suffering an injury and that setting back his filming schedule, which is one of the reasons he has not had a serious match in WWE since 2013. Wight mentioned that the mystery person had a “multi-year contract” which would also likely rule out The Rock, since the maximum I could see him possibly doing in AEW is a one-off promo appearance. The Rock is longtime friends with Chris Jericho and AEW does have the financial backing to pay a lot of money for him, but I really don’t see this one happening.
Cena’s contract status is unclear with WWE, although given his minimal appearances in the company I would guess that he is likely on some sort of per-appearance deal that he signs over the short-term. We do know that Cena is currently in Vancouver, filming a TV series and will be there until July. Due to the quarantining regulations between the US and Canada, Cena cannot afford to waste two weeks in the middle of filming to fly down to the US and do a wrestling match, which is why he is not doing anything at WrestleMania. It is possible that he signs with AEW but does not appear on the show in-person; but that also makes you question why AEW would introduce him when they know he won’t be able to arrive in person until at least July? Cena would be a huge get for AEW, but like The Rock, I don’t see it happening.
Must Watch Matches
Jon Moxley vs KENTA: **** – NJPW Strong #29
Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito: ****1/4 – NJPW Castle Attack Tag 2
El Desperado vs El Phantasmo vs BUSHI: **** – NJPW Castle Attack Tag 2
Guerillas of Destiny vs Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI: **** – NJPW Castle Attack Tag 2
Jay White vs Tomohiro Ishii: **** – NJPW Castle Attack Tag 1
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the state of wrestling commentary in 2021. They talk about the broadcast teams for AEW, WWE, NJPW and other promotions and go over their strengths and weaknesses while also talking about how they use heel and babyface roles to get their respective products over.